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Legal Publishers and others are making it tough for law libraries to maintain many of their collections. For example, Since 1996 Thomson Reuters (West) has dramatically raised the prices of its print titles, both for new sets and, more significantly, for upkeep. Svengalis in his 2016 Legal Information Buyer’s Guide and Reference Manual, tracks 24 popular Thomson Reuter titles and provides a supplementation upkeep cost over a 21 year period, 1995-2015. The average price increase over the 21-year period was 779%. Svengalis also track 20 selective Lexis titles, which increased 299% over the same period. By comparison, the consumer price index rose only 58% during the same time.

With such dramatic increases by commercial publishers, open-source advocates are finding ways to combat the high cost of publications. Wikipedia defines open source access as “. . . online research outputs that are free of all restrictions on access . . . and free of many restrictions on use . . .” Two such entities include the Open Access Button and Unpaywall.

open access buttonBoth are open-source, nonprofit, and dedicated to improving free access to scholarly research. Both scour thousands of institutional repositories (like our ScHOLAR), preprint servers (i.e., SSRN), and other websites to see if an open-access copy of the article is available.

The Open Access Button (OAB) is a browser bookmarklet that is invoked when users hit articles behind a subscription-based site. The OAB will search open access sites for the piece. Both OAB and Unpaywall work similarly.

unpaywallHowever, unlike OAB, Unpaywall uses extensions, which are currently available for Chrome and Firefox. When an Unpaywall user lands on the preview page of a research article and will see either a green unlocked tab or a grey locked tab.  If the tab is green, he or she can click on that tab to view the PDF. See graphic below.

unpaywall in article

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